President Obama is Hitler. At least, that’s what Republican Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee argued on Monday, when he said Obama was “marching the Israelis to the door of the oven.” Huckabee was referencing the diplomatic agreement with Iran that’s currently being reviewed by Congress – he and other conservatives are certain the deal will only enable Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Regardless of the specifics of the deal, it was entirely unacceptable of Huckabee to compare Obama to Hitler. The general rule of thumb for Hitler comparisons goes as follows: Did the person commit genocide, murder six million people, and plunge the world into a horrific, sickening war? If not, they are not Hitler.
That is, however, only part of my problem with Huckabee’s comments. By comparing Obama to Hitler, Huckabee implicitly compared the State of Israel to World War II-era European Jewry. While the Jews of 1939 were more or less helpless – refused as refugees, stripped of their rights, disarmed and silenced – Israel today has the world’s tenth strongest army, spends one-fifth of its budget on defense, and owns some 200 nuclear warheads. Clearly a very different situation.
Of course, it’s also worth noting that any comparisons between Israeli oppression of Palestinians and the Nazi oppression of Jews is inherently anti-Semitic. It’s never okay to compare the oppressed with their oppressors. And the purpose of such comparisons is rarely to make any sort of valuable historical argument – rather, it’s for shock value.
And here we come to the point. Mike Huckabee didn’t reference the Holocaust out of any legitimate fear for the Israeli people. He knows as well as I do that, as Chemi Shalev wrote in Haaretz, “way before the Iranians or anyone else comes close to bringing Israelis to the ‘doors of the oven’, they will be pulverized and, if necessary, incinerated as well.”
Instead, Huckabee used the Holocaust for shock value. He talked about Obama and the ovens in the same way Donald Trump talks about… well, anything. He sensationalized it, turned the murder of six million people, the horror and pain of the Shoah into something for the tabloids: “You Will NOT Believe What Mike Huckabee Just Said!”
The Holocaust is not for anyone to use. Its legacy is not one for vapid media attention, or shocking statements that gain voter support. Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust can be used to illustrate historical lessons, but otherwise they are off-limits to those who were not affected by them. Instead, these legacies belong to the Jews and the Romani.
One-third of the world’s Jews were killed by the Nazis, as were a quarter of Europe’s Roma. The trauma from the survivors of the Holocaust does not die with them. Instead, numerous studies have shown this trauma is passed down to their children and, some even argue, their grandchildren.
Thus, to reference the Holocaust as a non-Jew or non-Romani is not only to belittle the millions killed, but also trivialize the trauma affecting survivors and their children and grandchildren. And yet, this happens all too often. Pro-life activists have repeatedly compared the abortion with the Holocaust – there is even an organization named “Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust.”
Various American conservatives have compared the perceived “War on Christianity” to the Holocaust. Texas State Senator Charles Perry explicitly and graphically referenced the Holocaust in his inaugural speech:
There were 10,000 people that were paraded into a medical office [at the concentration camp in Germany] under the guise of a physical. As they stood with their back against the wall, they were executed with a bullet through the throat. Before they left, 10,000 people met their fate that way. Is it not the same than when our government continues to perpetuate laws that lead citizens away from God?
No, Mr. Perry, it isn’t the same. The attempted extermination of the world’s Jews and Romani is not in any way comparable to whatever perceived slights the government has leveled against you.
Despite the fact that non-Jews can not openly spout this offensive rhetoric, but often go without reprimand, Jews have no such luck. Any attempts to discuss the Holocaust are regularly silenced, often with the assertion that we over-expound on our experiences.
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, surveyed people in 100 different countries on various matters of anti-Semitism. Overall, some 30% said that the statement: “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust” was “probably true.” However, some 35% of respondents have never heard of the Holocaust, and 32% of those who had heard of it “believe it is either a myth or has been greatly exaggerated.” Clearly, we don’t talk nearly enough about the Holocaust.
But this stereotype that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust is not just harmful towards education about what happened, it actually works to actively silence us. When Jews speak of modern anti-Semitism, it is often this sort of retort that we receive. Our perceived over-complaining is used to delegitimize our experiences – similar to the way that the “race card” argument silences people of color.
Jews and Romani should feel free to discuss the Holocaust and share their experiences without fear of being deemed “too sensitive.” They should use the Holocaust’s legacy in whatever way helps them cope. But for those who were not affected, you have no right to evoke the horrors of that time in your own political campaigns, activism, or even well-meaning defense of Israel. The trauma of that time is literally seared into our DNA. The Holocaust is not yours.